To hear that customer service at HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has become so bad that it may be hampering tax collection, with half of customer phone calls to its helplines going unanswered in early 2015, should come as no surprise.
Considering the advances in technology and the explosion of social media, customers are more demanding than ever and expectations of customer service are high. With thousands of people waiting nearly an hour to get their call answered by HMRC, it is understandable that frustrated callers are hanging up and turning to Twitter to complain.
While HMRC has recently taken on an extra 3,000 staff to try and lessen the delays, the question is whether this should be the only solution to manage frequently high volumes of customer queries?
Having the right customer service strategy and execution in place is imperative in minimising customer complaints. In September last year, HMRC launched a new digital strategy to tackle complaints centred on its out-of-date processes and poor customer service, by creating personalised digital tax accounts to allow users to file, pay and make changes across all of their taxes in a single place based on real-time data. However, in light of the recent public accounts committee report that HMRC is only answering 39 per cent of calls within five minutes, it would seem that HMRC is still struggling to provide UK customers with a reliable service.
Yet again, further changes have had to be made. Only last week in the Autumn spending review, the chancellor George Osborne announced £1.3 billion investment to transform HMRC into “one of the most digitally advanced tax administrations in the world” by 2016-17.
This time round, if HMRC look to keep customers on-board with its plans to shift to a predominantly digital interface, it’s crucial that customers are provided with a considerably enhanced level of online support to use the self-service tax solution. Delivering customers with easily locatable information, could enable HMRC to support up to 40 per cent of customer enquiries in real-time. This would inevitably reduce long contact-centre queues and minimise customer complaints; boosting taxpayers’ confidence in HMRC’s services in the long-term. What is more, with plans to build a more highly-skilled workforce, complex customer enquiries can receive the required level of support more quickly.
While improvements to digital infrastructure could dramatically improve online support for the digital taxpayer, it’s important that HMRC’s services can accommodate the needs of all customers. Considering roughly 43 per cent of tax returns were filed offline last year, HMRC should be mindful of those that still wish for a traditional service approach. Whilst its plans to close 137 local offices nationwide and replace with ten regional centres should have little impact on digital users, for those who are digitally challenged, the question is whether HMRC will become easier to deal with? Only time will tell.
By Mark Kirby, CEO of CartAssist